Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Adventure of the Bus Mishaps: Our Trip to El Salvador: Part 4

When we last saw Nicki and Nolan, they were stuck in a strange San Salvadoran neighborhood, with no idea how to find their next bus.

Dripping with sweat, we searched in vain for anyone who could give us a straight answer about where the bus terminal was. At last, we decided to stop wasting time and hail a taxi. At $4 for the ride, it was 10 times more expensive than the bus, but we didn’t have time to waste. In no time we were at the terminal and on our next bus, a super especial with huge seats and air conditioning. It was the most expensive bus we’d take our whole trip, $5 each for just 2 hours, but it was comfy. We were treated to some music videos, greasy men singing upbeat Latin ballads with shots of half-naked dancing women spliced in, as well as some vendors selling freshly grilled meat that they sold off huge skewers like at Fogo de Chao. San Miguel, our spot to change buses, was nothing special, a hot, dirty, noisy bus terminal/market with annoying women grabbing our arms to buy stuff and no pupusas. We were forced to settle on Pollo Campero for lunch, again the most popular spot in town.

We got the last two seats on the bus up through the mountains to Perquin. The bus trip takes 3 hours, not because it’s far, it was only 60 km, but because the mountains are so steep that the cumbersome bus can only go 20 kph. It was a horrible ride, stuck between a guy who wouldn’t get his butt cheek off my seat and a woman who apparently thought it was a great idea to bring a gigantic birthday cake and box of fried chicken home on her lap for a 3 hour bus ride. I hope it was a special party. If the roads had been dirt, we may not have made it. But we did.

Perquin is a refreshingly cool, small mountain village, just minutes from the border with Honduras. In 2 minutes after getting off the bus, we had walked through the entire town, all 10 blocks of it, and gotten a recommendation about a place to stay. Our hostel was a few rooms, each with about 5 beds, circling the dining room of a popular restaurant. Back to bucket flushing and bathing, we felt like we were in training again. Our first night, we took a quick stroll around town, watched the sun set over the endless mountains, and found some quick pupusas before retiring to our rooms. While studying our guide book in bed, we were startled by something falling from the ceiling, a gecko fighting a scorpion! Scorpions were the last thing we expected to find, but there it was, small but lively. We grabbed a broom from the waitress at the restaurant and moved all the beds around to find it. We finally swept it out, then shooed the gecko away as well. After that, we switched to sleeping on the bottom of the bunk bed rather than in the uncovered one.

Hills of Perquin

The next day we woke up late and had a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading to our main attraction of the day, the Civil War museum. Here’s a bit of background. The 1930’s through the 1970’s saw widespread poverty and oppression engulf El Salvador due to overpopulation, high unemployment and government fraud. Conflict between the left and right wings of government erupted in 1980 after the assassination of an outspoken liberal archbishop, and from 1980 to 1992, El Salvador was engaged in a bitter civil war which claimed over 70,000 lives. The war is still very fresh in people’s minds. The liberal resistance group, a revolutionary army called the FMLN (Frente Marti para la Liberacion Nacional – named after the founder of the Central American Socialist Party, Farabundo Marti) was based in Perquin where they ran a radio station that spread news about the liberal forces. Throughout the war, fighting took place in and around Perquin and the museum was a testament to the bravery and strategy of the FMLN and its allies.

A few things were really outstanding. They had a variety of homemade bombs the FMLN used that were made from wood, wire or plastic since metal was almost impossible to come by unless it was captured from the army. They also used radios or walky talkies that worked by sending signals through barbed wire. There were interesting 1980’s aid posters from all over the world, especially Germany, that called for support for the FMLN. The radio station, Radio Venceremos, (we will overcome) was still partially intact with old equipment including a recording studio lined with egg cartons. They also had the exploded bits of a helicopter, brought down in a sting-operation orchestrated by Radio Venceremos. All this in addition to hundreds of photos and news clippings about the war. Our guide, Jose, was a war veteran who led us though the museum, explaining to us the intricacies of the war. He explained how the war turned families against each other, and how crafty and strategic the FMLN had to be to win battles with less funding, materials and people. We were so happy we could speak and understand Spanish to hear his story.

Radio Venceremos - Voz Oficial del FMLN

Jose, our guide

After the museum we took a quick hike up Cerro Perquin, a small hill overlooking the town, pockmarked with craters where bombs had hit and zigzagging trenches where the rebels fought. The view on all sides was endless blue-ish green mountains. In the afternoon, we headed a little out of town to the fanciest hotel, the Perkin Lenca, where we had an awesome lunch of grilled steak on a beautiful patio overlooking the valley. If the hotel itself hadn’t been so expensive, we might have stayed there, but the food itself was worth the short hike from town. It being the last day of our vacation, we relaxed the afternoon away. We saw a pretty awful four piece band playing in the central park, had some ice cream, chatted with an abuela who owned an artisan shop, watched some kids play volleyball, listened in on some high-powered evangelical church ceremonies taking place, tried to determine where the bus left in the morning (we decided to trust the police), then lounged in some hammocks to watch a funny (we assume Mexican) movie at our hostel about an orphan boy getting stuck in a cave. While lounging, we met a Dominican Bachata singer driving a Mustang who was passing through Perquin on the way to another gig. He thought Nolan was Italian (what a compliment) and he said he plays frequently in Honduras, so we might look him up.

Cerro de Perquin

Lunch at the Perkin Lenca

Our beautiful silence was interrupted by a group of 15 gringos who barged into the hostel (maybe the only one in town so who can blame them) in their short shorts, graphic tees and flip flops. We assumed they were college freshman since they were unchaperoned, and we wondered to ourselves if we had ever acted so annoying when we were that age… probably. We overheard one girl saying she thought all the countries in Central America hated Honduras – we took particular offense to that. We decided the best thing was to be the only gringos in town, mostly because the other gringos made us look bad. At least we dressed well, could speak Spanish and didn’t leave trash everywhere.

We tried to do a ‘pupusa hop’ for dinner, sampling the local fare from a few places, but it was Sunday night and most places were closed up. We settled for a quick pupusa in the park, and then headed back to our hostel for a few more. Despite doing hardly anything all day, we were exhausted, probably the rest of our trip finally catching up with us, so we turned in early.

Pupusa dinner

But oh our trip couldn’t be complete with one last bus fiasco or two. It turns out that the only unpaved road in El Salvador is the one that goes from Perquin to Honduras. It was just our luck that it had rained overnight, turning the road into mud. If the bus had been a little busito it might not have been that bad, but this was a huge bus, a busote, casi un avion said the guy we asked in town, and driving up steep hills in mud with no chains was not what it was designed for. Things were going okay for the first half. We were making good time through the little towns north of Perquin and were only briefly stopped at a Salvadoran military check point where all the men had to get off the bus to have their ID’s checked (kind of scary). When we got to the Honduran border, things got ridiculous. First of all, the border is in disputed territory so El Salvador doesn’t have a border post, only Honduras does. But when we arrived, not a single person boarded the bus to check our ID’s or passports, no one instructed us to get off to go through immigration and the only noticeable activity was a guy selling ice cream cones on the bus. Oh Honduras, we said in unison. The bus ayudante got off to fill up some bottles of water that he had been continually pouring into the engine on the way up. In less than 5 minutes we were off, feeling lucky that we have residency cards that prevent us from having any trouble anyway.

The road, which while unpaved in El Salvador was still fairly well maintained, turned into something like a motocross course on the Honduran side. The bus was getting stuck every few feet, skidding all over the road wildly from one side to the other, barely able to keep traction. At one point, we were stuck for 45 minutes while a team of helpful Honduran who appeared out of nowhere tried to dig, push, pull and tug our way out of mud pit. We thought we might never make it home, our supposedly 3 hour ride turning into a 5 hour fiasco. By the end, our ayudante and driver were both caked in mud and drenched in sweat, they earned every cent of their bus fare that day.

We had to change buses one last time in Marcala, about two hours from home. Before we did, we found a small cafĂ© to have a good ol’ baleada. It felt good to be back in Honduras again.

Back at home, Nicki and Nolan are able to catch up on some much needed rest to recharge for their next adventure, Halloween…

No comments:

Post a Comment